On June 16, 2018, a stupendously bright explosion tore across the cosmos and lingered in the sky above Earth for several weeks. The mysterious blast traveled 200 million light-years from the gut of the Hercules constellation, shone with the light of nearly 100 supernovas and captured the attention of the world’s stargazers until, finally, it vanished from the sky as mysteriously at it appeared.
Astronomers named it “The Cow.”
From the moment of its discovery, scientists knew that The Cow (officially named AT2018cow, which is a procedurally generated name) was no typical supernova. Now, months later, a team of international researchers is prepared to argue that The Cow is actually an incredible astronomical first: the birth of either a black hole or neutron star, witnessed live from Earth for the first time in recorded history.
“We know from theory that black holes and neutron stars form when a star dies, but we’ve never seen them right after they are born. Never,” Raffaella Margutti, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and lead author of a forthcoming paper on The Cow, said in a statement.